The New (and Old) News about Cheating for Distance Educators

Scott L. Howell
Brigham Young University

Don Sorensen
Caveon Test Security

Holly Rose Tippets
Brigham Young University


Those in distance education are faced with a formidable challenge to ensure the identity of test takers and integrity of exam results, especially since students are physically removed from the classroom and distributed across the globe. This news digest will provide distance educators not only with a better understanding and awareness of issues surrounding cheating but also suggest solutions that might be adopted to help mitigate cheating in their programs. While technologies, including “braindump” Web sites and cell phones, are associated with the more common cheating behaviors today, the problem of cheating will always beleaguer distance educators; it is their responsibility to stay current on latest developments in the field of academic dishonesty, employ fitting interventions to mitigate cheating, and do everything possible to preserve the integrity of distance education.


While many distance educators know they need to protect the integrity of their programs and prevent cheating whenever possible, few, if any, want to spend the necessary time or resources required to prevent and detect cheating. Confronting cheaters and spending resources on deterrents, detection, and discipline is not why distance educators go to work each day. However, this responsibility to stay current on old and new ways of cheating is receiving more attention at professional conferences as accreditation and legislative bodies codify expectations for distance education. For the past 10 years regional accrediting bodies have required programs to “ensure the integrity of student work,” (Accreditation Handbook, 2003, p. 47) and on August 14, 2008  Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act with this provision: “an institution that offers distance education to have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit” (Carter, b, 2008, italics added for emphasis).

This article is based on information gathered from 142 world news articles and digested by Don Sorensen, vice president of marketing for Caveon Test Security Systems, in 21 Cheating in the News newsletters archived at  Approximately 7,700 individuals subscribe to this free, biweekly e-mail newsletter digest.

The authors delimited findings from newsletters dated January 2008 to July 2009 even though the archive has e-newsletters back to February 13, 2004, for three reasons: (1) hyperlink accessibility to original news sources was less reliable any farther back than two years, (2) most current news on cheating is from the past year or two, and (3) to make the study more manageable.


This article seeks to summarize findings relevant to the question “is it the same student” taken from over a hundred recent news articles about cheating. The synthesis of the news articles resulted in ten topics that all begin with the word “how”: (1) how much media coverage cheating is receiving; (2) how much cheating exists—and is increasing; (3) how cheating occurs in all institutional sectors: K-12, higher education, business, and government; (4) how an academic field and business niche for academic dishonesty has emerged; (5) how new terminology is used to describe cheating nuances; (6) how assorted are the types of cheaters; (7) how students and test makers react when cheating occurs; (8) how varied are the institutional consequences for cheating; (9) how students are cheating; and (10) how institutions are combating cheating.

How much media coverage cheating is receiving

The newsletter author, Don Sorensen, indicated that for every 10 articles his news aggregator gathered from across the Web using keyword terms “cheating,” “test fraud,” “exam fraud,” “exam cheating,” “test cheating,” and “certification cheating” he selected and reported on one. If the ten-to-one reporting ratio is extrapolated to 142 news articles approximately 1,420 (142 X 10) news articles appeared on cheating during the past 18 month period alone.

Frankly, it is surprising to discover that Cheating in the News even exists and that it digests just a few of the hundreds of news articles written about cheating each year. Of the 142 articles extant at the time of this writing 88 were from the United States and 54 from international sources. Furthermore, these news articles appeared in some of the more notable newspapers. In descending order of frequency, those media outlets from which three or more articles were extracted are listed with number of instances parenthetically noted:  Network World (8), China View (7), Boston Globe (6), Business Week (5), Wall Street Journal (4), U.S. News and World Report (3), New York Times (3), Dallas Morning News (3), and eSchool News (3).

How much cheating exists—and is increasing

Nearly every other issue of Cheating in the News included another study about how much cheating occurs and in many instances how it is increasing. While experimental designs, research criteria and assumptions, sample sizes, and individuals studied were different, they found widespread cheating.

The most significant studies identified in the news follow:

Cheating is more prevalent than most realize, especially to parents (97 %) who do not realize their own children may be part of the one-third who use cell phones to cheat. While the results of some of these studies may contradict numbers and percentages, they all tell the same story:  cheating is prevalent and on the rise.

How cheating occurs in all institutional sectors: K–12, higher education, business, and government

Cheating is a worldwide problem for not only K–12 and higher education, but also for governments and corporations. Some typical examples of cheating across these different settings follow: 

How an academic field and business niche for academic dishonesty has emerged

Cheating is now the subject of academic research, and preventing cheating the mission of companies. Caveon Test Security, the company that sponsors and creates the newsletter Cheating in the News states on its Web site that “Caveon is the first test-security firm to offer protection against test piracy and cheating. Using proprietary detection services, we identify breaches, offer remediation services to halt and prosecute abuses of sensitive test information, and provide prevention services to help secure your testing programs from further compromise” ( While it considers itself the first test security firm in existence, many others also provide services to prevent and identify cheating.

One of the news articles reported on the academic work of Dr. Donald McCabe, a professor from Rutgers University who “has studied cheating and plagiarism among undergraduate and graduate business students”; he concluded that penalties should match the intent of the cheater but also acknowledges it is a “difficult position [to evaluate] the individual motivation of each student” (Mintz, 2008). Another article introduced Dr. Jason Stephens, an assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Connecticut, as “a rising star in the field of academic dishonesty” who conducted a national survey on cheating and who also “thinks he has an answer for what he describes as a cheating epidemic” (“Researcher Studies,” 2008).  And in yet another the reader learns about interventions set forth to prevent cheating in the state of Texas by a Canadian professor, Dr. George Wesolowsky, “who studies cheating” (Hacker, 2008).  Finally, a university newspaper announced that David Callahan, author of the book The Cheating Culture,would speak to faculty and students (de Stefano, 2008).

How new terminology is used to describe cheating nuances

These news articles introduced unfamiliar cheating jargon to some of the authors. Terms include “invigilator” for a test proctor (“Student Opens Fire,” 2008), “organized cheating” for a group of cheaters who conspire to cheat together (“Law to Curb Exam” 2008), and “leaked” to describe answers and papers made available to students through a test authority or educator before the test is administered (Seuraj, 2009). 

However, the most frequently used unfamiliar term was “braindump” (R. Williams, 2008; “Stolen Tests,” 2008). To truly understand the cheating industry it is necessary to know the term “braindump.”  They are active businesses, typically managed online, that provide students with studying services; they often guarantee candidates passing scores.  Many study Web sites, such as Cramster and Course Hero, are developed to help students study (Chaker, 2009).  However, debate continues over whether or not these sites, or aspects of them, enable cheating. Questions arise over students’ accessibility to previous tests and questions, homework solutions to textbooks assignments, step-by-step solutions, and graded essays. Subscription to these braindump sites is increasing and, simultaneously, so is concern by test developers over copyright infringements.

Some professors and teachers disagree with such sites’ functions and purposes while other educators use them as learning tools for themselves as well as their students (“Two Teachers,” 2009).  One such online resource that straddles the line between resourceful study tool and braindump is the Facebook application “Let’s Cram.” In an article concerning the application, Karl Walter states, “Education chiefs have slammed the idea [Let’s Cram] as dangerous, as children using the application get questions answered for them, resulting in them not learning anything” (Walderman, 2009).  Some universities have regulated the material and resources employed on individual sites and yet business for such sites is profitable and more students are using them.

Jargon is also used to describe various cheaters. There are several terms used to describe a cheater’s cheater who stands in for a student scheduled for the examination: proxy (Rafter, 2008), impersonator, non available candidate (Ozordi, 2009), or gunmen and hired hands (“Stolen Tests,” 2008).  It is evident from the cheating jargon that cheaters are more than just the students who should be taking the test—hence, the question asked of distance educators by many: “is it the same student?”

How assorted are the types of cheaters

It would be narrow-minded to think that students are the only ones cheating.  Granted, a large portion of cheaters consists primarily of students and their peers copying papers, texting, or using questionable online resources, but the percentage of cases that involve a teacher, business, potential employee, employer, test authority, or parent is also significant.  Interestingly, the majority of entities reporting such situations occurred outside of the United States, especially where school exams and tests have a much greater bearing on college placement and career employment.  In China, for example, where student population is high and acceptance to college greatly affects an individual’s future career, it is a matter of utmost importance that students perform well on their exams. 

An article from China’s People’s Daily Online, concerned two teachers and 29 students using technological cheating devices during the national college entrance examination.  One of the teachers, Liu Yanhua, confessed that for a fee, she would help children cheat (“Two Teachers,” 2009).  It was not disclosed whether the Web site from which Liu obtained the cheating devices was specifically advertised and setup to encourage cheating.  However, other articles from the Caveon Archives report selling cheating devices and techniques as a lucrative business plan (Wang, 2008). Reports have emerged of large organizations being formed involving complex plans. Another article reported a city official who helped 27 students cheat by giving “commission fees” to police officers (Gao, 2008). 

News articles from countries that place high priority on school exams for university placement also reported a higher number of types of people involved in cheating. This is congruent with a specific study done on cheating that reported honor students and high-GPA students as more likely to cheat than average and struggling students because the pressure to succeed, compete, and perform is greater (Berry, 2009). This would also explain why quite a few articles concerning graduate school tests, such as GMAT, reported a high number of cheaters.  A survey of more than 200,000 covering a 19-year period concluded that “those in business school cheat more than their peers in other disciplines” (Hechinger, 2008).  Many graduate students will hire proxies, who have made a business of impersonating students, to sit the exams. The Wall Street Journal reported on business graduates paying $3,000 each for a proxy test-taker.

How students and test makers react when cheating occurs

Another surprising finding from reviewing these news articles was how the accused, and those accusing, reacted. The news stories reveal how canceled scores, lawsuits, riots, gunplay, and more have resulted. Some reactions follow:

While some cheaters acknowledge their cheating, many do not, but in those stories digested in Cheating in the News it was evident that the reactions were varied and significant.

How varied are the institutional consequences for cheating

In these news articles the consequences for cheating ranged from nothing to imprisonment with probation, expulsion, fines, and cancelled scores in between. A no-consequence example was reported by wherein a student disclosed that “many of [his] colleagues just copy and paste data from the internet for their projects and assignments and what's worse, some teachers realise [sic] this but choose to turn a blind eye" (Najami, 2009).  An imprisonment example came from China where parents and teachers involved in helping students cheat were sentenced up to three years for helping students cheat (Branigan, 2009).

Two contrasting instances involving cheating students and the judiciary were cited elsewhere: (1) two university students in the Caribbean who used a leaked exam to prepare for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Test received a $1000 fine and were sentenced to six-months in prison (Seuraj, 2009); and (2) in New Delhi a local magistrate determined that those university students brought before the court for cheating were too young to imprison and, hence, “forgave” them. (The judge did reprimand the parents for poor rearing and the students were debarred from the institution but allowed to enroll at another institution [Saxena, 2009]).

Many are the instances of consequences from these articles where consequences were somewhere between the two extremes of imprisonment and nothing: (1) Philadelphia Temple University’s academic honor code allows professors to use their own discretion when dealing with cheating students (Berry, 2009) and, (2) one student was disqualified from the GMAT after bragging online how a site helped him cheat.  Business school administrators are evaluating students’ use of the site in order to determine whether they also will be disqualified and possibly banned from taking the exam in the future (Levy & Lawyue, 2008).

How students are cheating

While the prevalence of cheating was the most surprising finding from this study, the methods of cheating were next most surprising. The news articles made it evident that the newest methods of cheating utilize technologies but that old ways are still commonplace and widely popular. The most common method of cheating in these news articles was the use of “braindumps” which was defined earlier in the terminology section.

Now, the most current cheating methods represented in the news articles:

How institutions are combating cheating

So how much money is an institution willing to spend to prevent cheating? The U.S. Army budgeted six million dollars to employ procedures and devices to help mitigate cheating among the country’s soldiers (Bender, 2008). Is that enough money to prevent cheating, especially when one cheating company alone “grosses an estimated ten million annually” (Baron, 2008)?  In some sectors and parts of the world cheating is not only a common practice but also a big business.

This section will share some of the interventions used by institutions to mitigate cheating—and not all of them cost millions. While some of the methods employ devices others use procedures and policies and some use both types. Institutions and policymakers choose from a variety of methods that best fit philosophy and circumstance.


Unfortunately, cheating is pervasive and on the rise throughout the world. Those in distance education are faced with a formidable challenge to ensure the identity of test takers and integrity of exam results, especially since students are physically removed from the classroom and distributed across the globe. This news digest will provide distance educators not only with a better understanding and awareness of issues surrounding cheating but also suggest solutions that might be adopted to help mitigate cheating in their programs. While technologies, including “braindump” Web sites and cell phones, are the more common cheating behaviors today, the problem of cheating will always beleaguer distance educators; it is their responsibility to stay current on latest developments in the field of academic dishonesty, employ fitting interventions to mitigate cheating, and do everything possible to preserve the integrity of distance education.


12 in Ohio patrol face firing in probe. (2008, August 26). Retrieved from
Accreditation Handbook, (2003). Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Redmond, WA.

Augustin, R. (2008, October 2). study tool or cheating site? JackCentral. Retrieved from

Baron, K., Wirzbicki, A. (2008, July 22). Study confirms widespread cheating on job exams. Retrieved from

Bender, B. (2008, March 4). Army to revise online courses to stop cheaters. Retrieved from

Berry, C. (2009, March 10). Study: Honor students more likely to cheat. The Temple News. Retrieved from

Branigan, T. (2009, April 3). China jails teachers and parents for hi-tech exam cheating. Guardian. Retrieved from

Brodkin, J. (2008, September 3). Don't be fooled by suspicious test preparation Web sites. Network World. Retrieved from

Carter, D. (2008, August 11a). raises ethical concerns. eSchool News. Retrieved from

Carter, D. (2008, September 15b). New law aims to validate online learning. eSchool News. Retrieved from

‘Caught copying’ at SSC exam, girl jumps to death off terrace. (2009, March 17). Express India. Retrieved from

Chaker, A. M. (2009, April 9). Do Study Sites Make the Grade. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Cheating in Scottish exam rose by 21 per cent last year. (2008, March 13). ATL. Abstract retrieved from

Cheating on ACT, SAT college entrance exams has few consequeces. (2008, July 25). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Chen, Q. (2008, December 30). Student jumps from 5th floor to prove innocent in English test. Shanghai Daily. Retrieved from

Cisco certified community builds on strength of program quality and rigor. (2008, April 30). Abstract retrieved from

Classroom Fraud. (2008, October 3). Abstract retrieved from

College cheating is bad for business. (2008, September 24). Knowledge@W.P.Carey. Retrieved from

De Stefano, B. (2008, September 9). Author explains moral deterioration in America. The Daily Toreador. Retrieved from

Denied ‘right’ to cheat, students go on rampage. (2008, February 2). Sify News. Retrieved from

Exam cheats force review of teachers. (2008, August 28). The Phnom Penh Post. Abstract retrieved from

Destined to cheat? New research find free will can keep us honest. (2008, February 1). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from

Duffy, J. (2008, July 30). Cisco simulator can help thwart exam cheating. Networkworld. Retrieved from

Exam cheats to be caught on camera. (2009, June 5). China Daily. Retrieved from

Foderaro, L. (2009, May 20). Online study tools or university cheat sheets? International Herald Tribune.

Foster, A. L. (2008, July 25). New Systems Keep a Close Eye on Online Students at Home. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Gao, Y. (2008, June 30). Official seized for cheating fraud in China’s college exam. China View. Retrieved from

Genova, W. (2008, January 24). California Students Sue Dental Association Over Exam Cheating Row. All Headline News. Retrieved from

Goens, M. (2008, December 14). Where's the integrity in our schools? Retrieved from

Guodong, D. (2008, June 6). China vows severe punishment for cheating in college entrance exam. Retrieved from

Hacker, H. K. (2008, March 4). Texas steps up security to prevent cheating on TAKS tests. Dallas News. Retrieved from

Hechinger, J. (2008, July 22). Business Schools Try Palm Scans To Finger Cheats. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Hitchcock, M. (2008, March 11). Bad behavior among teens a growing concern. News 8 Austin. Retrieved from

Hongjiang, W. (2008, July 6). High-tech exam cheat caught using radios in E China. Retrieved from

James, S. D. (2008, February 29). Cheating Scandals Rock Three Top-Tier High Schools. ABC News. Retrieved from

Jamison, P. (2008, April 11). Student sues after cheating inquiry. Concord Monitor. Retrieved from

Jones, A. (2008, July 31). Podcast: beating the GMAT (without cheating). Financial Times. Retrieved from

Kleiner, C., Lord, M. (1999, November 11). The Cheating Game. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

Kwoll, S. (2009, March 11). Academic integrity lost on students. The Omega. Retrieved from

Laser, M. (2008, April 28). To cheat or not to cheat. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from

Lavelle, L. (2008, June 23). Shutting down a GMAT cheat sheet. BusinessWeek.

Law to curb exam cheating. (2009, January 25). China Daily. Retrieved from

Levy, F., Lawyue, M. (2008, July 1) GMAT Scandal Has MBA Students Sweating. Business Week. Retrieved from

Loughlin, Sue. (2008, March 18). ISU faculty member finds test answers for sale on eBay. Retrieved from

Macsai, D. (2008, November 23). Students share exams online. BusinessWeek. Retrieved from

Malpas, A. (2008, September 5). A crisis brewing in the classrooms. Retrieved from

Martin, M. (2008, September 10). Twelve state troopers fired for cheating. Retrieved from

Mehta, S. (2008, July 24). Testing group reveals why it voided AP exams of about 400 students at O. C. high school. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Miners, Z. (2009, June 23). One Third of Teens Use Cellphones to Cheat in School. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

Mintz, Phil. (2008, July 13). Business Schools Mull Scandal Options. BusinessWeek. Retrieved from

Muller, R. (2008, July 24) What should the punishment be for cheating by a “Test-Center?” NetworkWorld.

Musthaler, L. (A, 2008, September 1). Confessions of a cert cheat. NetworkWorld. Retrieved from

Musthaler, L. (B, 2008, September 29). How data forensics help root out certification cheaters.  NetworkWorld. Retrieved from

Najami, S. A. (2009, January 5). Cheating in school exams goes hi-tech. Retrieved from

Nickson, C. (2009, May 5). Norway trials laptops for school exams. Digital Trends. Retrieved from

No phones allowed ‘within reach’ for FCATs. (2008, February 15). Palm Beach Coast. Abstract retrieved from

OC court orders students to retake AP tests. (2008, August 8). San Jose Mercury News. Abstract retrieved from

Oleck, J. (2008, March 10). Most High School Students Admit to Cheating. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Ozordi, C. (2009, February 12). Have N15,000 for special grades. Next. Retrieved from,000_for_special_grades.csp

“Prairie View says 11 nursing students caught cheating.” (2008, May 29). Dallas News. Retrieved from

Prego, R. (2008, May 1). The aging honor system. The Stute. Retrieved from

Quinn, B. (2008, June 15). Citizenship answers sent via Bluetooth. TheObserver. Retrieved from

Rafter, M. V. (2008, June). When Tests Go Bad. Workforce Management Retrieved from

Ramírez, E. (2008, December 2). Cheating on the Rise Among High School Students. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

Researcher Studies Epidemic of Student Cheating. (2008, September 12). Abstract retrieved from

Rivera, C. (2008, March 30). Exam cheating goes high tech, but its causes are nothing new. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Ruiz, I. (2008, October 3). Students use cell phones to cheat on Peru university admissions exam. Retrieved from

Saxena, S. (2009, July 20). Judge forgives 33 cheating students. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from

Seuraj, I. (2009, July 31). 2 Plead Guilty. Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday. Retrieved from,83518.html%20

Sharkey, M. (2008, Sptember 8). Universities catching hundreds of cheats. WalesOnline. Retrieved from

Stansbury, M. (2009, June 18). Students say using tech to cheat isn't cheating. eSchool News. Retrieved from

Stolen Tests Threaten IT Certifications. (2008, April 24). Byte and Switch. Retrieved from

Student opens fire after caught cheating. (2008, June 14). Daily Times. Retrieved from

Two teachers detained for college entrance exam cheating. (2009, June 11). People’s Daily Online. Retrieved from

Uni has ways of find cheats. (2008, September 4). Cambridge News Online. Retrieved from

University discovers exam-selling ring. (2008, March 29). Retrieved from

Veroff, R. (2008, June 12). Web site elicits criticism for allowing old-exam sharing. The Daily Texan. Retrieved from

Walderman, K. (2009, January 25). Concern over ‘cheats charter’ on Facebook. Click Liverpool. Retrieved from

Wang, H. (2008, July 6). High-tech exam cheat caught using radios in E China. China View. Retrieved from

Warnock, W. (2008, December 7). True family values, or their lack, make a difference. The Chapel Hill News. Retrieved from

Watch Out! Thai exam cheat triggers phone-watch ban. (2008, June 3). Stuff. Retrieved from

White, M. (2009, April 9). Combatting cheating is about values, not technology. Riverhead News-Review. Retrieved from

Williams, C. (2009, April 24). City Investigates Alleged Cheating on EMT Test. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Williams, R. (2008, March 2). Braindumps, Gunmen, and Cheaters. Network World. Retrieved from

Williams, R. (2008, March 16). Top 20 most braindumped certification venders. Network World. Retrieved from

Williams, R. (2008, March 31). Stopping the Inadvertent Cheater. Network World. Retrieved from

Wood, C. (2009). For educators:  Ways to curtail student cheating in school. The Gwinnett Citizen. Retrieved from

Worthington, D. (2009, March 24). Cheaters turn to Web to game certification system. SD Times. Retrieved from

Yan. (2009, July 3). More than 2,000 found cheating in China's college entrance exam. China Review. Retrieved from

YouTube tests students' desire to cheat. (2008, November 22). CNET News. Retrieved from Caveon newsletter. Retrieved from

Zetter, K. (2009, February 7). TED:  Dan Ariely on why we cheat. WIRED. Retrieved from

Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XII, Number III, Fall 2009
University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center
Back to the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration Contents